Instagram heartbroken over reports a Malaysian teen killed herself after asking followers to help her choose life or death

Instagram's head of public policy, Karina Newton, and head of product, Vishal Shah.

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Instagram’s head of public policy, Karina Newton, and head of product, Vishal Shah.
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Parliamentlive.tv

  • Two Instagram executives appeared before a UK parliamentary committee on Wednesday.
  • They were grilled by lawmakers about the case of a Malaysian teenager who reportedly died by suicide after posting a poll on Instagram asking people to choose whether she should live or die.
  • The executives called the incident was “heartbreaking” and said the poll violated Instagram’s community standards.
  • Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.

Two high-ranking Instagram executives sat before a UK parliamentary committee on “immersive and addictive technologies” on Wednesday. The same day, news broke that a 16-year-old Malaysian girl died by suicide after posting a poll onto Instagram asking whether she should live or die.

The local police said the unnamed teenager killed herself after 69% of respondents to the poll chose death. Damian Collins, the chair of the Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Committee, opened the questioning by asking about the news.

“The news is certainly very shocking and deeply saddening, and our thoughts and prayers go out to the family of the young woman in Malaysia,” said Vishal Shah, Instagram’s head of product.

Instagram’s head of public policy, Karina Newton, added that the reports were “absolutely heartbreaking.” She said the poll itself violated Instagram’s community guidelines, which forbid the promotion of suicide.

Read more: Facebook is dialing up punishments for users who abuse live video after the Christchurch massacre

Collins pressed the executives on whether the company would take any action against the users who took part in the poll, but they said that it was too early to say and that the investigation into the girl’s death was ongoing.

“We are actually deeply looking at whether the products, on balance, are matching the expectations that we created them with,” Shah said.

“If in cases like the polling sticker we are finding more evidence that it is not matching the expectations or the creative guidelines by which we created them, we are looking at whether we need to make some of those policy changes like we’ve done with Live more recently.”

Facebook on Wednesday announced it was stepping up the punishments for users abusing its livestreaming feature following the Christchurch, New Zealand, massacre, which the attacker broadcast on Facebook.

Earlier Wednesday, Wong Ching Yee, Instagram’s head of communications in the Asia-Pacific, told Reuters that the poll actually ended up with 88% of votes in favor of the teenager living, or “L” as it was described. The police said this might have changed, however, after news of her death spread around the world.

Instagram’s treatment of suicide and self-harm came under close scrutiny in February following the death of a 14-year-old named Molly Russell in the UK. Russell’s family found that she’d been engaging with numerous Instagram accounts featuring images of self-harm and suicide, and in response Instagram banned all graphic images of self-harm on its platform.

If you or someone you know is struggling with depression or has had thoughts of harming themselves or taking their own life, get help. The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline (1-800-273-8255) provides 24/7, free, confidential support for people in distress, as well as best practices for professionals and resources to aid in prevention and crisis situations. If you are based in the UK, the Samaritans helpline is available 24/7 on 116 123.